Category Archives: creativity

4

The bookshelf project: part 2

After posting about the recent arrival of my long awaited built-in bookshelves, and getting some great feedback from our readers, family, and friends, I finally embarked upon the multi-hour project and wanted to share the end result (still a work-in-progress) here:

To give you some more information about the strategy (and it was discussed extensively before the project began as well as throughout the endeavor!), I’ll share how it all played out. We started by unpacking books from boxes as well as taking off of shelves from my office one copy of each of the books I’ve sold during my almost eighteen years at DGLM.

We then labeled the shelves with post-its indicating which category of books would go into which shelves. The broad sections include adult fiction, cookbooks, illustrated/craft, practical nonfiction, narrative nonfiction, and children’s. For categories where we had more books, we used more shelves. For the cookbooks, we divided them into sections: general, vegetarian/vegan, and baking and then alphabetized them within the section. Then we filled in the two top shelves with foreign editions of my titles.

We mixed the style of display with horizontal and vertical and left a few books standing up and facing out, and then filled in some blank spaces with decorative touches and picture frames. At that point, we’d filled ten of the fourteen sections, and the other four sections we used for additional cookbooks, miscellaneous awesome books (Hamilton!), and my beloved large and growing collection of books signed by the author, which includes mostly children’s books (I’m that person who will go to an author event with or without my children to get a signed book!) and a few celebrity titles.

I have a lot more books that I’ve read and collected over the years, but I didn’t want to pack the shelves too tight so I could leave room for more of my own titles to fill in. At some point I’ll get another large bookcase which I’ll put  in a different room to house  the others, but for now I’m happy my living room bookshelf project is finally complete.

Please let me know what you think and if you have any suggestions for changes or improvements!

1

Books with a side of awesomeness

I recently stumbled upon an Instagram account called @bookbento, that’s run by Read it Forward, and then fell in love with its content. It satisfies pretty much every part of me that loves books, good design, pretty knick-knacky things, and the many Instagram filters available. Essentially, @bookbento pairs a book (recent ones include THE ASSISTANTS by Camille Perri, THE GIRLS by Emma Cline, A LITTLE LIFE by Hanya Yanagihara, and ME BEFORE YOU by Jojo Moyes) with items that match elements of the book, set against a striking background. For example, THE ASSISTANTS was paired with a typewriter, a day planner, two pencils, and a cup of coffee. This Instagram makes me want to go out and read all of these books immediately, proving that good visuals can be important!

With social media becoming an ever important way to reach an audience, I think something like @bookbento is an incredible way to draw readers in and maybe convince them to go out and buy a copy of the book. It’s aesthetically pleasing enough that viewers might stop for a closer look, and the elements surrounding the book hint at what might be inside. There were a few books that I certainly Googled afterwards, to see a summary, and then put on my “to-read list.”

What other clever social media accounts about books have you found? What effect do you think they have on both avid readers and readers who might only pick up a book or two a year

2

Work spaces

My son’s orchestra teacher sent him home with an assignment this past weekend: Film your practice space and tell me why it inspires you or helps you focus while you practice.  The resulting two-minute video showed my son leading a very limited tour of one corner of our den where his viola and guitar lessons and practices routinely take place.   Showing his teacher that the area was comfortable, brightly lit, teeming with musical instruments (my husband is a guitar collector), with enough room for his music stand, not to mention  easy access for our nosy standard poodle to hang out, earned him an A.  The point of the exercise, I believe, was to make kids aware that where they practice their instruments affects how much and how well they do it.

Given that I’ve spent most of my life looking for that perfect work space for my at-home reading and editing, I found this assignment charming.  My ideal situation would be a quiet, well-lit room, with little to no through-traffic, a comfortable chair—with ottoman for stretching out—a nice side table to stack papers and nearby shelves to keep supplies at easy reach.  The most important thing about this platonic ideal of a work space would be nothing that could create a distraction from the task at hand.  In my H.G. Wells moments, I envision some kind of force field that completely neutralizes iPads, Kindles, iPhones, laptops, televisions, etc., while in the room—basically the room equivalent of noise cancelling headphones.

My reality is a corner of my living room or my bedroom with multiple, every few minutes, interruptions from my husband looking for something only I know where he put, my son listening to the baseball game (or Sponge Bob) loudly nearby, the dog needing to be let out every time someone walks past our house so she can bark at them and then ask to be let back into the house again, my parents calling, texts making my iPhone buzz…. You get the idea.

And this is just me trying to edit, not write.  Which is why I really enjoyed this piece by Victoria Patterson in The Millions.  There’s nothing new about the need writers have for a space conducive to their writing—just ask Virginia Woolf—but these days, when our attentions are so under siege, it’s especially important to find that one place you can get down to the business of creativity.

What’s your writing space like?

3

Don’t Judge A Book by Its Dress

Readers find books in a lot of ways: a friend’s suggestion, a radio interview, a magazine ad, a blogger’s review. But nothing beats browsing a bookstore (or a website) and picking a new book simply because the cover caught your eye. In spite of – or perhaps because of – an increasingly digital world, it’s fun to see publishers’ art departments paying a lot of attention to creating arresting covers for books.

So I got a big kick out of this Buzzfeed list matching 24 striking book covers with couture seen on the runway during New York Fashion Week held earlier this month. High fashion and literature might not go hand-in-hand very often, but when they do, it sure is fun!

24 Books That Perfectly Match New York Fashion Week Looks

I don’t know if I’d wear that dress, but I sure would read it!

Have you ever bought a book based on cover design alone? What do you look for in a great cover design? Any favorite book covers that you think would make a great dress?

The art of storytelling

The story matters. But so does the way you tell it. Just learn from this 23-year-old who has been writing a memoir on Instagram.

There are so many great things to love about this story. Sure, I appreciate the beautiful photos and well-written captions, but I admire the sheer ingenuity most of all. Fact: a new memoir is published every 38 minutes. Don’t fact-check me on that, just trust me. There are a lot of memoirs out there. Another fact: not many of them are written using the medium of a photograph social media platform, with carefully curated shots posted a year later, a completely different practice than the usual immediacy and spontaneity of picture posting.

Short stories and even entire novels have been written on Twitter too, but what technology gives, technology also takes away. Algorithms generate news stories and a scary amount of written content that you would never suspect. Don’t believe me? Then take this test.

The point is this: technology has changed everything and will continue to change everything, for better or worse. There are an unimaginable number of ways to spread stories now. Get creative and find a way that is uniquely you. Otherwise computer algorithms may as well write your story for you.

Also, I just wanted to include a quick update on one of my earlier blog posts. In March 2015, I posted a blog about censorship and China being named the guest of honor at BEA 2015. Want to see what that all amounted to? This was the result.

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My love affair with Ann Patchett

I think Ann Patchett is amazing on so many levels. She’s so uniquely talented, is incredibly prolific, and writes nonfiction as well as fiction. I loved her beautiful tribute to Lucy Grealy, Truth & Beauty, as much as her wonderful novels like Bel Canto and State of Wonder.  And I’m a bit biased at the moment because she recently made a large donation to my small town library, which I talked about recently on this blog.

I was pleased to find an article on writing based on her book, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, for brainpickings.org that offers such interesting and lovely advice for writers from one of the masters of her craft. In it she talks about how writing nonfiction for her has been easy, while writing fiction has always been more challenging. She talks about the importance of learning to forgive yourself in creating art, which she feels is critical. She uses metaphors that resonate, even if they initially feel a stretch of the imagination.  Why do writers so often feel they can send early work to The New Yorker when musicians would never think they could play at Carnegie Hall after just a month of practice!

Words of wisdom here from a magnificent and gifted writer who not only writes beautiful books, but is so open to sharing her knowledge and skills with other writers. She’s a true gift. Enjoy!

0

Plausibility

As devoted DGLM readers know, we run an in-house book club here to broaden our horizons and keep abreast of categories we might not otherwise investigate. This month, we’re doing thrillers, and while I enjoyed my book—fast-paced, good characters, lots of practical information—ultimately it bugged me because the central premise was totally unbelievable. While there’s eventually a plot-twist that tries to explain away the implausibility of the concept, it doesn’t pass the smell test.

Yet without naming names, the book came from a Big Six house, edited by a top editor, and was the author’s tenth novel. It came armed with tons of blurbs from major authors, and I could find only one review that took issue with the premise. To which I say… really? But while I sit here feeling like I’m taking crazy pills with Mugatu from ZOOLANDER, the book did make me think about plausibility in general.

I’m sure plausibility is a question  for all writers, but especially ones who write in plot-heavy genres like thriller, sci-fi, fantasy, kids books, etc. It’s hard enough to come up with inventive plots, character and voice, yet do it in a way that readers will buy–even if your story is about, say, zombie kittens from Mars. So if you’re wrestling with plausibility issues, check out this essay from Steve Almond in Writer’s Digest, which ably dissects the various plausibility traps writers often fall into (I’d say the premise of my Book Club book falls under the Factual/Logistical umbrella). Or, for an elegant summation of how to think about plausibility, it’s hard to beat this letter from Ursula K. LeGuin.

How many of you have run into problems with plausibility? And how have you found your way out of the traps?

7

Books and lyrics

Driving in to work today, I was listening to Spotify and thinking about books.  I’m currently obsessed with the song “Ugly Heart” by G.R.L. and I was thinking it could be the basis for an angstsy teen novel.  One thing leads to another in my often labyrinthine thought process and I soon found myself trying to list in my head songs I love that are based on books, poems, or other literary works.

Some obvious ones came to mind—“Calypso” by Suzanne Vega, “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen, “Romeo and Juliet” by Dire Straits, “Wuthering Heights” by Kate Bush, “Moon over Bourbon Street” by Sting.  All of these have been longtime favorites because of the dimension they add to the fictional works they, well, ripped off.  (Isn’t all creation  stealing, really?  Or at least borrowing heavily?)

Kate-Bush-Wuthering-Heights-202391

As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I love the marriage of music and literature and I often find myself making musical pairings in my mind: Paolo Nutini riffing on The Fault in Our Stars?  Fun. taking a crack at Atonement?  Adele reinterpreting Bel Canto?  Jay-Z channeling Tennyson?  You get my drift.

What is your favorite song based on a book?   And what book would you like to see become a hit song?

0

Crazy genius

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of the crazy genius. So many times we see talented, creative individuals struggle with mental health issues – depression, anxiety, addiction. Some of the most brilliant artists of our generation have had tragic endings to their lives, most recently and notably Robin Williams which brought the conversation to a much more mainstream place. That struck an emotional response with so many of us. He made us laugh, we loved him like a friend, he was so funny. And yet his personal demons ultimately got the better of him. The outpouring of support and willingness to talk about a difficult subject and offer help to those who need it was the best thing that came out of Williams’ untimely death.

I found this piece in Authormagazine.com by a freelance writer and it resonated with me. It talks about the links between creativity and sensitivity, as many artists have elements of both. It also highlights the fact that so much of the darkness we sometimes experience in our creative lives is normal. I like her line: “This buildup of feeling is where art is born”. It reminds me of a quote I once saw on my nanny’s Facebook page: “Life is beautiful, not easy.”

I have an interest in this subject and have worked on many books over the years that explore some of these dark issues. Perfect Chaos by Linea and Cinda Johnson was a dual memoir by a daughter and mother about a brilliant young pianist who suffers from bipolar disorder. The pair have worked tirelessly within the mental health community to raise awareness of the condition and reduce the stigma associated with it. And Come Back by Claire and Mia Fontaine was also a mother-daughter memoir that delved into the issue of child sexual abuse. It was a Target book club bestseller and has sold over 200,000 copies. These authors have shared stories with me and others of how their books have helped people who felt lost and hopeless. Ultimately they send a positive message about triumph over adversity that is both hopeful and inspiring.

So embrace your inner crazy genius and let it take you somewhere you’ve never gone before. That is often the place where great things can happen.

And if you or someone you know is feeling like there’s no way out, here is the number and website for the national suicide prevention line: 1-800-273-8255 http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

5

Good bad advice

For something that’s so subjective, fluid, and intuitive, writing sure has a lot of rules.   From the time you pick up your first pencil until they pry the keyboard from your cold, dead hands, you’re exposed to a litany of do’s and don’ts that are sometimes as confusing as they are meaningless.  (I’m sure someone told Faulkner it was a bad idea to include a chapter in his first novel that is one opaque sentence long.  I’m just as sure that he ignored them on his way to creating Nobel Prize winning masterpieces.)

You’ve been told not to end sentences with prepositions, not to split infinitives, not to dangle participles (because they’re scared of heights?), and so on, ad nauseam.  If you’re even the slightest bit OCD (like me) all these rules can paralyze you when you have a thesis to write, an edit memo to compose, or a novel you want to start.

Do all those rules matter?  Well, yes, they do.  A good writer is one who knows the rules and judiciously breaks them for effect.  You can easily tell a great craftsman who uses repetition to make a point from a sloppy hack who can’t be bothered to look up a synonym, for instance.  As someone who spends a lot of time line-editing proposals, I can tell you that in most cases, rule flouting is not intentional or effective. Rules

On the other hand, there’s a lot of bad advice being doled out by “experts” that, if followed, will consign you to the Dantean circle where boring, tepid, uninspired prose blandly tortures the poor souls  whose crimes against literature landed them there in the first place.  Which is why G. Doucette’s piece in the HuffPost cracked me up.

The point?  Rules are good.  Rules should be understood and followed.  Rules must sometimes be broken.

What are your favorite rules to ignore?